Learning No. 1: Confidence=Fuel for Teaching

My first year as a teacher trainer has now passed. It can undoubtedly be defined as one of the most rewarding and challenging years of my professional career up to date. Writing and researching my MA thesis throughout the year definitely compounded my workload, but the arrival of my diploma in October mitigated any memory of academic exhaustion.

Yes, last year was quite the learning load. My lesson planning creativity was flexed and stretched to multiple degrees. My understanding of teaching and learning magnified due to the “meta” nature of teacher training. My confidence as a teacher dropped a few steps, and in the end found its way back to the top of the staircase. This is where the list of my top 5 learning moments of 2010 begins.

1. Confidence = Fuel

Teachers need confidence. Confidence ignites our drive to utter the first word at the start of a lesson. It fuels our ability to keep pushing through when a student/trainee asks a question you just can’t answer. At the core, confidence is what allows teachers to stand in front of a class of individuals and be vulnerable.

I say this because I had a few memorable bouts with confidence last year. It mostly came into jeopardy at the beginning of each semester, a sensitive time for everyone. Participants (students) are trying to figure each other out, and they’re also testing the trainers (teachers), to see what they know. It was during this storming stage that I most frequently questioned my skills as an EFL teacher, and as a teacher trainer.

Why did I question myself this way? It’s dreadfully simple. Participants asked me questions I just couldn’t answer off the cuff (detailed questions about grammar and sentence structure), and I believed I should be able to answer right away. I know I put too much pressure on myself, and that it is impossible for teachers to know everything off the top of their head, but I couldn’t help hearing that little perfectionist’s voice inside my head saying,

“Come on Josette! You should know this. Can you really call yourself an English teacher if you can’t answer this question right now? What kind of example are you setting? Why would they want to keep learning from you if you can’t answer these kinds of questions?”

Harsh right? But this kind of self-talk is all too common.

When a participant asked me that type of question, luckily I mustered up enough confidence to tell them,

“I’m not sure about that. I’ll look it up and get back to you tomorrow.”

So I went home, plopped down on my office floor, and surrounded myself with reference material. I figured out the issue to the best of my ability, and I came back to the participant the next day with what I discovered. This is how I saved my confidence.

Yes, we can debate whether or not teachers should admit that they don’t know the answer to a student’s question, and I know this is debated in the teacher training world. But if this is what you need to do in order to keep a hold of your confidence, I believe it is an essential maneuver.

This belief was brought home when I was told on a few occasions during both semesters (semester 1 = 57 participants; semester 2 = 37 participants), that my honesty about not knowing all the answers was refreshing. Some participants were relieved to learn that they could respond this way to their students, and still maintain confidence from both the student and themselves. In the end, the way I responded to my drop in confidence fueled confidence in my participants.

There isn’t a magical way to create self-confidence. The way I know how to hold on to it is by reflecting on what I don’t know (what went wrong), and making sure I understand it at the end of the day. From here I can create an action plan. This involves getting up to date with teaching methodologies, studying grammar, reading books about sentence structures, listening to Grammar Girl, and collaborating with colleagues. It isn’t easy, but I know that since I need confidence to teach, I need to spend extra time building it up. Anything that kills the little perfectionist’s voice in my head is definitely worth the extra work.

 

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